Nakedi Mathews Phosa was born on 1 September 1952 in Mbombela Township, Nelspruit, Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga Province). He grew up with his grandfather in a rural area near Potgietersrus (Mokopane). He was educated at Maripi High School in Acornhoek and matriculated from Orhovelani High School in Thulamahashe. In 1981, he opened a legal practice in Nelspruit.
He left the country in 1985, and in 1986 became the regional commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) in Mozambique. Phosa was one of the ANC members instrumental in convincing King Sobhuza II of Swaziland not to accept the apartheid regime’s offer to give him the kaNgwane and Ngwavuma districts. Phosa as a MK leader, operated out of Mozambique in his native Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga) in the 1980s.
Following the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, he played an important role in transition initiatives, including the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa). He was one of the first four members of the ANC to enter South Africa from exile in 1990 to start the process of negotiation with the National Party when the ANC was unbanned.
He was also head of the legal department of the ANC. As head of the ANC’s legal department, he often engaged in fierce debates with the Minister of Law and Order, Hernus Kriel, over issues such as the joint investigation by the South African Police and the ANC into the death of Chris Hani.
At the ANC’s 52nd National Conference, Phosa was elected Treasurer General. He has been a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC since 1999.
After the first democratic elections in 1994, Phosa was appointed as the Premier of Mpumalanga, a position that he held until 1999. In 1995, the University of Boston in the United States of America awarded him an honorary doctorate.
Phosa speaks nine languages. Mathews Phosa published a volume of poetry called Deur die oog van 'n naald (Through the eye of a needle) in 1999. He has also chaired various business entities and was a member of various organisations:
- Chairman: Multi Projects Developments South Africa
- Member of the World Board of Special Olympics
- International Chairperson of Special Olympics South Africa (SOSA)
- Member of AHI (Die Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut)
- Council Member of AHI (Die Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut)
- Board of Trustees Member of BUSA Council (with effect 2 November 2006)
- Former President of Chambers of Commerce and Industry South Africa (CHAMSA) (March 2007 to 14 May 2008)
- Former President of AHI (20 October 2005 – 19 October 2006)
- South African chairperson of MCLI (Maputo Corridor Logistics Initiative)
- Chairperson of Council of the University of South Africa (UNISA)
- Chairperson of Innibos Arts Festival
- Chairman of Board of Directors of the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa from 1 October 2008
- Professor Extraordinary School of Management, University of the Free State (1 Jan 2007 to 31 Dec 2009)
- Member of the Board of Trustees of The Black Tie Ensemble
- Honorary Trustee of Die Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal Trust
- Achievements: Awards
- 2004 – Chairman's Award - Afrikaanse Sakekamer
- 2005 – Marketing and Branding Capabilities Award – Cape Chamber of Commerce
- 2005 – Business of the Year Award – Afrikaans Sakekamer
- 2007 – Nominee – Business of the Year Award – Afrikaanse Sakekamer
• NB Publishers. Mathews Phosa [online] Available at www.nb.co.za [Accessed on 15 May 2012]
• Hlongwane S, All you needed to know about Mathews Phosa (but never remembered to ask) from the Daily Maverick, [online] Available at www.dailymaverick.co.za [Accessed on 15 May 2012]
• Mathews Phosa, from Who’s Who Southern Africa, [online] Available at www.whoswhosa.co.za[Accessed on 15 May 2012]